A group of unemployed men stand on the road side hustling on the streets of Pinetown CBD waiting for someone to hire them for a piece daily jobs so that they can work for their families. Picture : Motshwari Mofokeng /African News Agency (ANA)
A group of unemployed men stand on the road side hustling on the streets of Pinetown CBD waiting for someone to hire them for a piece daily jobs so that they can work for their families. Picture : Motshwari Mofokeng /African News Agency (ANA)

Department of Employment and Labour failing SA’s workers

By Michael Bagraim Time of article published May 13, 2021

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All government departments assess their annual performance and development strategic plans and targets outlining their hopes and wishes for the forthcoming year. This annual plan is presented to Parliament’s portfolio committees that ask questions of clarity and questions about the performance of the previous year.

The Department of Employment and Labour presented its strategic plan last week.

Despite the fact that the department sets its own targets and assesses itself against its previous targets, there is always some food for thought as to how the department fared previously.

Last year and the first quarter of 2021 have been particularly harsh on everyone’s performance but it must be said that the department has not covered itself in glory.

Many readers of Independent Media have been writing to me about system failures and enormous hardship experienced because of the various entities controlled through the department.

Entities such as the Unemployment Insurance Fund, the Compensation Fund and the CCMA have had their fair share of trouble.

Much of this trouble existed before the pandemic.

It needs to be said once again – the Compensation Fund has been dysfunctional for almost two decades.

An anecdotal story needs to be retold. An injured worker from Port Elizabeth was blinded in an eye in an industrial accident at work. It occurred 21 years ago. Despite the proper submission of his claim and years of follow-ups, paperwork and doctors’ certificates, this was never finalised.

I accompanied the claimant to a hearing at the Compensation Fund in Port Elizabeth to try to establish why his medical claims had not been met.

The well-structured hearing concluded with an agreement that he would have all his medical claims paid. This took place two years ago. Despite the positive outcome, it has been reported to me that the claimant has still not received payment.

The UIF has literally failed South Africa’s workforce. Despite the glowing report from the department’s director-general, I am still receiving dozens of complaints every week.

Despite the replacement of the UIF commissioner with a competent acting commissioner, claims are still falling by the wayside. I am ashamed to say that I have written over 10 000 emails over the past 14 months to the UIF.

The new acting commissioner, with the help of her top management team, have been able to sort out most of my complaints but only they were brought to her attention.

Anecdotally, an employee wrote to me about her non-payment of the emergency funding during her time at home because of the pandemic. She was told to stay at home during the lockdown. For some reason, the employer refused to apply for the Ters payment from the UIF. Despite a report to the UIF about the employer’s refusal, the UIF did absolutely nothing. I have followed up over a dozen times about this particular case but there has been no movement.

This case is repeated throughout the country as many employers didn’t register their employees for UIF in the first place or were just too lazy and nasty to claim on behalf of their employees. All these employees fall between the cracks and received no UIF during the time they so desperately needed it. Again, the Department of Employment and Labour did not cover itself in glory.

The CCMA, which has been the jewel in the department’s crown, also suffered terribly over this time. Its trouble started when the government needed more than R10.5 billion for SAA. Some of that money had to be clawed back from the department.

In turn, the CCMA could not have its budget properly funded. This meant service delivery has been heavily affected. Unlike the other entities within the department, the CCMA has been honestly reporting its difficulties and the reasons for service delivery failure.

Again, the government needs to understand that without a proper functioning CCMA, the rights of workers are basically destroyed. At last, the trade union movement has started speaking up against this, but it appears that the department is not hearing the pleas from workers.

The Minister of Employment and Labour would have us believe that his department has performed satisfactorily and even well, but my experience has been the opposite.

* Michael Bagraim is a labour lawyer. He can be contacted at [email protected]

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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